Everyone can feel alone in a crowd. Even dragons.
It’s not like Berk lacks for these beasties. The isle is home to so many you’re liable to literally trip over one lazing in a doorway. This bustling Viking/dragon enclave is home to Gobsuckers and Gronkles, Zipplebacks and Buffalords, Grim Gnashers and Crimson Goregutters. It’s got more dragons per square foot than Iowa’s got corn, or Miami’s got beach umbrellas, or Hollywood’s got actors-turned-Starbucks-baristas. And thanks to Chieftan Hiccup’s ongoing dragon-rescue operations, the village is getting more all the time.
But for all the dragons Berk has, it only has one Night Fury—a ferocious, speedy, black dragon that flies straight out of legend. Hiccup calls him Toothless, and the name fits well enough if you don’t make him mad.
Toothless has a pretty good life in Berk, all things considered. He’s the dragons’ Alpha these days—the species’ undisputed, all-powerful leader. And he digs hanging out with Hiccup, too, especially when he plays fetch with the human’s artificial foot.
Still, Toothless is thought to be the last of his kind.
Until that day—that fateful afternoon—when Toothless discovers that he’s not.
He spies her in a lush forest clearing, all white and sparkly and ever so coquettish (at least by dragon standards). Hiccup and his girlfriend, Astrid, promptly dub her a “Light Fury.” And she has no interest in settling down.
But this lithe new lizard isn’t the only one with a sudden interest in Toothless. Some distance away, dragon-napping warlords have cut a deal with Grimmel, the world’s most notorious dragon killer. He’s the reason why Toothless is the last Night Fury: Grimmel personally slaughtered the rest. And now that Grimmel has learned one such dragon escaped his icy grasp, he means to correct his oversight.
Grimmel has just the bait he needs, too—that lovely little Light Fury. She’ll scramble Toothless’ mind with the bat of an eyelash and the flick of a scaly tail. And without even knowing it, the damselish dragon will lead Grimmel right to his prey.
Love, it’s said, makes the world go ’round, and it makes this movie go, too. How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World is all about love—not just romantic love, but the affections we feel for friends and family. The story even takes a special interest in the sacrificial variety, too. Embracing love, the movie suggests, is always worthwhile—even if it comes with its share of pain.
In flashback, we see Hiccup’s father mourning his long-lost wife. “With love comes loss,” he tells his confused little boy. “It’s part of the deal.” And without spoiling anything, I will say that the movie contains some pretty nuanced and mature manifestations of how love and loss can intermingle.
Perhaps it’s appropriate. Hiccup and his small band of friends are young adults now, dealing with the complex issues of growth and change that come with growing up. Hiccup, even though he’s Berk’s big cheese these days, is still on a journey of self-discovery, learning what he really needs to do to be the man—and leader—he wants to be.
But so, in some ways, are they all. Valka, Hiccup’s mother (who was found back in the second movie) scolds Hiccup’s band of warriors a bit, telling them that they “rely too much on your dragons and not enough on one another.” Emphasizing the value of teamwork never goes amiss. And since most of the rest of us don’t have dragons to rely on, it’s a particularly valuable lesson.
Naturally, audiences will see plenty of heroism, too. Hiccup, Toothless and a bevy of others are repeatedly willing to risk their lives for the respective humans/dragons in their care.
Christian missionaries apparently haven’t made their way to the enclave of Berk, and its human citizens are all still believers in Norse gods and goddesses. “Oh my gods!” we’ll hear some exclaim now and again, and we even hear a more targeted reference and oaths involving thunder god Thor a time or two. (Someone exclaims, “Thor almighty!” for instance, while another character namechecks Odin similarly.)
A marriage seems likewise pagan, taking place in front of what appears to be a huge statue of Hiccup’s father, Stoick. There are references to characters looking like Norse gods. There’s a reference to someone being a “spirit guide.” One particular species of dragon, the Hobgoblin, is repeatedly said to be a bad omen, and it’s clear that a fair bit of superstition influences these Viking people.
Toothless and his love interest engage in perhaps the most tender animal romance since Disney’s Lady and the Tramp. Admittedly, no spaghetti is slurped here (though that seems like a missed opportunity). But the two dragons engage in a lengthy and funny mating ritual, with both eventually taking wing to fly together in the sky, rub noses, touch wings and demurely vanish from the audience’s prying eyes. After that, they’re clearly a couple. And we hear the Night Furies mate for life.
Meanwhile, some are prodding Viking couple Hiccup and Astrid to take the next step in their own relationship: to get married. Hiccup resists the idea of tying the proverbial knot (in part, it seems, because of some insecurities he has about his leadership). But those fears ultimately don’t hinder the couple’s romance from gradually moving forward. Hiccup and Astrid wrestles affectionately (yes, there’s obviously physical contact, but it doesn’t feel sexual) touch each other tenderly at times and kiss once or twice.
As mentioned, one or two people are described as having the physique of Norse gods. Tuffnut, one of Hiccup’s friends, has tied his long hair around his chin and tries to pass it off as a full, manly beard: He sometimes pushes people’s faces into that (ahem) beard to give them some sort of Viking solace, but the gesture is intimate enough that at least one passer-by feels awkward witnessing it—coughing demurely to make his presence known.
Snotlout—another of Hiccup’s friends who’s trying to grow a wispy mustache of his own—is deeply taken with Hiccup’s mother, and is always on the lookout for ways to impress her (even if everyone else is weirded out by the young man’s obvious crush on the older woman).
We see two other dragons engage in a mating dance. When the female Ruffnut is captured by Grimmel, she tells him that he’s “never had a prisoner this hot.” Later, she hugs a male cohort and says that she likes “sensitive guys.”
Grimmel is a nasty villain. He believes that by killing dragons, he’s bringing the world a little closer to some semblance of peace and security. But let’s be real: He really just likes killing dragons.
We don’t see him kill any of them outright here—though at the outset it looks as if he does. He has a yen for shooting them with poisonous tranquilizing darts, though, which instantly put any rampaging dragon (or human) asleep. He also has six fearsome dragons of his own that he’s drugged to keep under his control—Deathgrippers, they’re called—which spew a green, acid-like liquid that pretty much scorches and ignites anything it touches. We watch those dragons torch a good chunk of Berk and nearly burn to a cinder Grimmel’s very own fortress.
Hiccup and his friends attack dragon-napping ships and fight frenetically with the mercenaries onboard. Naturally, dragons join the fray, too. Swords are swung but never seem to find their mortal mark. Mallets and clubs do, though—bouncing off skulls and bodies with slapstick thuds. Lots of combatants get singed by dragon breath or snagged by dragon talons—sometimes to be dropped from dizzying heights. One dragon and his rider careen into a group of adversaries as if they (the adversaries) were bowling pins. A dragon chases Hiccup and Astrid with wild abandon: Without intercession from Toothless, both would’ve surely been goners. Moments of theoretically mortal peril like that pop up several times in the film.
Relatively small dragons attack an assailant like rabid Chihuahuas, and one gnaws on an artificial leg still attached to its owner. Hiccup plays fetch with Toothless with his own metal limb. A dragon uses a mysterious electrical power to free himself from the clutches of hostiles. A few dragons and at least one person fall into the ocean to suffer fates unglimpsed (but presumably not pretty). An unconscious dragon nearly suffers the same fate. Ships and villages burn. Though Hiccup and his mates wear fireproof dragon-scale armor these days, someone forgets to fireproof his rear end. Dragons rampage, throwing would-be attackers right and left.
We may hear a few misuses of God’s name (mingled among instances of “oh my gods”), along with one use of the British profanity “bloody.”
Grimmel uses drug-like dragon venom to knock out various dragons and to control his own. Vikings drink from massive tankards typically associated with mead or grog, though we never know with certainty exactly what they’re imbibing.
We see and hear a couple of slightly crude gags involving people’s posteriors. Snotlout acts with humorous-but-annoying swagger. We see a lot of dragon slobber, which is sometimes used for … glue? One Viking admits that humans and dragons all eating together in the same mess hall (with dragons often rolling around on the tables) is less than sanitary.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World isn’t a film that begs deep analysis. This trilogy-ending effort isn’t the cohesive, multilayered story we’ve grown to expect from Pixar, nor does it contain the rollicking meta-humor that fills the LEGO movies. Nor do I think it has the emotional depth and heft of even its two predecessors. No, this is a simpler story, one with simple goals.
But when we look at that story simply, and we examine what’s been at the core of the whole series—a boy, a dragon and real love they share—it works. And for some, it may work a little too well.
The Hidden World can be fun and winsome and even beautiful in spots: The trip to that titular hidden world may be worth a gasp or two. But this final chapter in the How to Train Your Dragon saga wings its way toward a surprisingly bittersweet conclusion. It reminds us that to begin something new, something else has to end. In every hello, there’s a future goodbye. It makes for a satisfying finale, but young fans of the franchise may shed a tear or two. And maybe even some older ones as well.
Outside that gentle caution, The Hidden World feels of a piece with How to Train Your Dragon 2: It’s got lots of action and some mildly squirm-worthy violence, a wee bit of blushing romance and a small dollop of crude humor. It’s not as clean as the first chapter, but it’s still pretty mindful of its young audience.
The Hidden World doesn’t hide its merits. It’s fun and resonant and, yes, a little sad. But still, it allows the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy to fly into the sunset on scaly wings.
Saying goodbye can cause pain. If your family is in that bittersweet time, here are some items that may strengthen and help get everyone through.
Managing Those Tricky Emotions
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.